Onboarding That Welcomes and Inspires

Apr 9, 2008

At the recent onboarding conference I spoke at in Atlanta, I had the opportunity to listen to some great examples of companies that get concepts such as “It’s About the Experience” and “What’s The Emotional Take Away?”

At the conference, Diana Oreck, vice president of Ritz-Carlton’s Global Learning & Leadership Center, shared how their employee orientation program and onboarding process welcomes and inspires their new hires. She also talked about the mindset that informs how they design the experiences they deliver.

In some ways, I believe their mindset is more important for you to internalize and share with your onboarding team than are the particulars of what they do. I say this because understanding the foundational principles of effective onboarding is like understanding the fundamentals of great design: once you understand them, there’s no limit to what you can create.

Think Ritz As You Design Your Process

At Ritz-Carlton, one of the fundamental understandings that informs the guest or employee experiences it delivers, according to Oreck is, “People don’t remember what you said or what you did, but they always remember what they felt.”

This is why I believe asking, “What’s the emotional take away?” is so important when examining each step of your onboarding process.

Critical Questions in Your Orientation and Onboarding Process

Keep this in mind as you design and refine your onboarding process. For each facet of your employee orientation program and at each step of your onboarding process, ask the following:

  • “What’s the emotional take-away here? What is the way we are doing this right now, and what emotions would a new employee take away from this experience?”
  • “Are these the emotions we want to leave them with?” If your answer is no, then ask “What emotions would we like them to experience?” and “How can we create an experience that would naturally elicit these?”

Design Your Employee Orientation and Onboarding Process to Elicit These Emotions

Examples of emotions you want to elicit in your new employee orientation and onboarding process include welcomed; comfortable and secure; proud; excited; inspired; and confident.

Diana Oreck shared with the audience the video Ritz-Carlton plays for new employees during orientation. The video talks about what it would mean if you were in the top 1% in various fields. As images of Tiger Woods and Bill Gates and people in the top 1% of their field flash across the screen, inspiring music plays in the background with the lyrics “What have you done today to make you feel proud?”

The video then transitions into letting the new employee know that being with Ritz-Carlton means they are among the top 1% in the hospitality industry.

Even after seeing it a few times, it still gives me goose-bumps.

I can’t imagine watching that video as a new employee and not feeling pretty darn proud and excited about my new job and my new employer.

I found it interesting (and telling) that Ritz Carlton balances two important messages in their orientation program: “You are now part of an elite, best-in-class organization,” and “We’re lucky to have you.”

One message without the other is not enough. Because one of the most important human needs your new employee-orientation program should satisfy is the feeling of pride in one’s work and one’s employer, you want to extol the virtues of your company. You want new employees to feel lucky to be working for your company.

However, sending the first message without the second, “We’re lucky to have you here,” would come across as arrogant and snobbish. You’ve probably met people who worked for marquee-name companies, or even big-fish-in-small-pond companies with a regional reputation, who’ve crossed the line from proud to smug.

At Ritz-Carlton, Oreck and her colleagues tell new hires “Aren’t we blessed that you picked the Ritz Carlton for your ‘second place’,” referring to the second most-important place the person inhabits each day.

The fact that Ritz Carlton achieves this gracious balance between “You’re lucky” and “We’re lucky” reflects their service philosophy of balancing elegance with warmth. Masters at creating a delightful customer experience, it recognized years ago that delivering elegance without warmth (like high-end restaurants with supercilious maitre des) projects a haughty, condescending image. By consciously blending elegance and warmth, the Ritz conveys “elite” without “elitist.”

It uses this same degree of emotional intelligence when creating new employee experiences. Think of whether you are emphasizing both messages enough and if you have a good balance between the two.

What’s Love Got To Do With Onboarding?

Love has a big connection with onboarding, especially if you’re Texas Roadhouse, a two-time member on the Forbes List of 200 Best Small Companies.

At the onboarding conference, speaker Mark Simpson of Texas Roadhouse shared two videos, including one they show new employees at their orientation. It communicated the “lovefest” that is this company. In their video, they had excerpts from a Managing Partner Conference, where store managing partners celebrate their hard work and accomplishments.

They had clips from humanitarian projects Texas Roadhouse employees participated in, including seven Habitat for Humanity projects in Mexico. It included clips from proud employees, including one memorable quote from a young man: “I’ve been working here for one year and I still eat here, so I think that says it all!”

Listening to the passion and pride as Simpson talked about their company, you can just imagine what it’s like for their new employees in orientation. I can imagine the pride they must feel, both from watching this video and from hearing Texas Roadhouse leaders share with pride about the uniqueness of their company and how they, the new employee, will help make their guest experiences “legendary.”

Their video, and their orientation program as a whole, communicates very clearly that this is a company that loves their employees, celebrates the good work that they do, and is not your average place to work.

Interspersed throughout Simpson’s presentation was the word “love,” including the guiding themes of Texas Roadhouse: “Love your people and show it!” and “If you love your people, they’ll love your customers.”

If you’re sharing this article with hard-boiled “old school” executives who are unmoved by such “touchy feely” concepts as loving your employees and loving your customers, here’s what it does for Texas Roadhouse, in the words of Simpson:

“The goal is to have ‘engaged’ employees engage your guests and build repeat business. In a 2006 attitude and usage study, 89% of the guests that visited us intended to revisit us. That the highest in our industry and 9% higher than the nearest competitor.”

Further, in a recent study by PeopleMetrics, a market research firm based in Philadelphia, involving 10,000 customers to find out which brands engaged their customers the most effectively, Texas Roadhouse scored the highest in their category, ranking third overall, right up there with such power brands as The Four Seasons and Ritz-Carlton.

Onboarding with the Southwest Airlines Mindset

Southwest Airlines is another company that “gets it” about the importance of designing its employee orientation and onboarding process with the goal of creating positive emotional experiences.

Just as with Ritz Carlton, it’s not surprising that a company known for delivering a unique (and uniquely wonderful) customer experience brings this same expertise and intentionality to their new employee experience.

In a recent interview with Cheryl Hughey, Southwest’s director of onboarding, I was struck by how their awareness of what was important to accomplish in onboarding was more advanced, in my opinion, than most companies.

The fact that they showed a higher level of awareness is not surprising, given how acutely aware they are that their culture is the secret to their success. Creating a work experience that produces such a culture requires mindfulness and intention, so it’s not surprising they would bring that to their orientation and onboarding process.

Hughey noted that when their onboarding team went out and benchmarked other companies’ onboarding process, they noticed that the others seemed to focus primarily on creating logistical efficiencies that allowed the new employee to become productive more quickly.

Capturing the difference in mindset, Ms. Hughey explains:

“Here’s what it is that I think we do differently, or what we emphasize more: in a lot of companies, it seems like if there are online forms to check off and documents that get passed around from HR to the hiring manager to the new employee, they think onboarding has been accomplished. While getting those kinds of logistical things automated can help you get your new employee up to speed and productive more quickly, it won’t necessarily help you with retention.

If you want them to stay, if you want them to become engaged, you need to make sure you do the “feeling” part of the process, and you do that by showing them how they will make a difference, giving them examples of how their fellow employees make a difference, making them feel welcome as with our Sponsor a New Hire program. It’s those kinds of things that lead to not just better retention, but a more inspired workforce.”

Consciously designing work experiences so they lead to employees feeling welcomed respected, valued, inspired, proud, and determined doesn’t just help you with employee retention. It also directly improves employee motivation, productivity, and customer service.

That’s why I believe in the following four mantras, which are important for management to keep in mind when making decisions that affect employees’ work experiences:

  • “Everything Matters”
  • “Think Experience”
  • “What’s the Emotional Take Away?”
  • “What’s the Perceptual Take Away?

I hope this article stimulates you to examine your orientation program, share more stories that communicate what makes your organization great (i.e., stories that elicit pride), and share more stories that show how employees make a difference.

Last, but certainly not least, remember to ask your new employees for feedback on what you can do to create a more emotionally engaging onboarding experience.

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